Spine pain can affect anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the population at one time or another. While both men and women can have the exact same source of spine pain and very similar symptoms, the way each of the sexes handles this type of discomfort can vary. A study by researchers in India suggests certain patterns specific to how men and women experience and manage spine pain. Other studies indicate estrogen and testosterone play a role in these differences, as does psychology and culture.
Women Experience More Spine Pain Than Men
The study found that, on average, women are more likely to experience spine-related pain than men. Additionally, their injuries are likely to be more severe. Women are also more likely to put off seeking medical attention than their male counterparts. Spine conditions that tend to affect women more than men include:
- Spinal osteoarthritis (partly due to postmenopausal bone loss)
- Coccydynia (tailbone pain)
- Piriformis syndrome (irritation of a muscle in the buttocks area that may cause symptoms similar to sciatica)
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis (“slipped disc”)
Symptoms Are More Likely to Last Longer for Women
In the Indian study, approximately 90 percent of women had symptoms for five years or more. Fifty percent of those women reported having spine pain for more than a decade. Ninety percent of the men in the study reported having similar pain for less than five years. Part of the reason women have spine pain longer is because they often wait longer to see a doctor. However, when spine-related pain is severe, both men and women have operations at similar rates. When pain is mild, women tend to put off seeking medical assistance.
Men and Women Consider Spine Surgery for Different Reasons
Men are more likely to have vertebroplasty surgery or another procedure for acute (sudden) injuries than women, while women are more likely to have surgery for a chronic condition that has progressed slowly. Men are more likely to experience spine pain related to:
- Ruptured discs
- Work-related injuries
- Ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis)
- Prostate inflammation
Female Patients Are Often Younger Than Men
Women are often more hesitant to seek medical assistance for spine pain. However, female patients are about a decade younger, on average, than male patients. Two other notable findings from the study:
- Vitamin deficiencies affect women more – Women tend to have spine-related issues due to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, which also plays a role in the degree of bone loss experienced with age
- Women tolerate pain better – Study results echo previous research also suggesting women are able to tolerate higher levels of pain more than men
Pregnancy and Childbirth May Account for Some of the Differences
Another reason women may have more spine-related pain than men is because some of the discomfort is related to changes near the lower spine due to pregnancy and childbirth. On a related note, women are likely to respond better to a class of pain relievers known as kappa-opioids, which is why they are sometimes prescribed to manage labor pain. Researchers believe these painkillers may work better with estrogen hormones.
What men and women with spine pain do have in common is a desire to find relief. Home remedies such as taking it easy for a few days or applying some ice or a heating pad may soothe sore back-supporting muscles. However, if spine pain isn’t going away, no matter what symptoms are being experienced, it’s time to visit your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon to find out what’s causing it and what can be done about it.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you need a reliable surgeon to perform your spinal surgery. At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we specialize in fusion and non-fusion procedures such as lumbar interbody fusion and cervical disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica patients who want to start living a pain-free life should get in touch with Dr. Bae at The Spine Institute today. Call 310-828-7757 to set up an appointment.